Dominican Republic: Barrick set to open giant gold mine

The Pueblo Viejo gold mine in CotuĂ­ in the Dominican Republic‘s central province of Sánchez RamĂ­rez is starting operations this August, Jamie Sokalsky, CEO of the Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation, told investors on July 26. The new mine, on a site abandoned by the state enterprise Rosario Dominicana in 1999, will produce up to 125,000 ounces of gold this year and reach full capacity during 2013, Sokalsky said. The project, a joint venture with the Vancouver-based multinational Goldcorp Inc., has cost about $3.8 billion so far; this is said to be the largest private investment ever made in the Dominican Republic. (AP, July 26, via NBC 29, Charlottesville, Virginia)

The project has stirred up protests in the past, because of what activists said were irregularities in the government’s contract with the Canadian companies, and because of potential damage to the environment and to archeological sites. Barrick plans to use 24 tons of cyanide a day, Virginia RodrĂ­guez, a coordinator for the local nongovernmental organization SalvaTierra (“Save the Earth”), told the Associated Press wire service. “There is a very high risk, especially with an island like ours with a very fragile ecosystem,” she said. The mine is located in a mountainous region, the source of some of the country’s most important rivers.

Barrick Gold has been working to counter these complaints. The old Pueblo Viejo mine caused extensive environmental damage, but Barrick insists that this was the fault of Rosario Dominicana. The Canadian company says it will protect the environment by applying “the industry’s highest international standards to bring about an operation based on responsible mining.” Even the damage from the old mine has mostly been eliminated by natural processes, according to Carlos Tamayo, a Mexican national who directs Barrick’s local environmental department. “[T]ime has been the best ally for improving the situation,” he told the Dominican daily Hoy. “The environment is very wise. It’s like when someone’s sick, and the body often creates its own self-defense mechanisms to be able to cure itself naturally.” (AP, July 5, via Tampa Bay. Florida, Times; Hoy Digital, July 18)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 5.